Saturday, August 20, 2022

How women can work better with men

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By Homaira Kabir—

It’s one of the gnarliest, crusty problems of our time: How do women work better with men without having to twist themselves like a pretzel to be like that? That approach worked well at a time when women had to prove they were just as competent and capable as men, as they entered a world made by men for men.

Now that the evidence is conclusive, many high-potential women are in a dead end. They either feel that they are not living in accordance with their strengths and values. Or that they walk the fine line of competence and like-ability, also known as the Double Bind, and lose on both sides. Competent women dislike and sympathetic women are considered “too nice” for C-suite leadership roles.

These challenges are based on cultural biases that are deeply embedded in the psyche. Manipulating, mansplaining, and “hepeat” — when a woman’s idea is ignored and a man repeats the same thing and everyone loves it — are just some of the ways these prejudices manifest themselves.

It is easier to deal with this behavior when it occurs in our personal lives, where the playing field tends to be more even, and interruptions generally have no malicious intent. However, in workplaces, it’s not really possible to blow off steam (as much as you’d like to), or take credit for your ideas without sounding a little petty.

So how can competent and ambitious women contribute in a way that brings out their full potential, manage frustrations without being drawn in, and change the playing field as they go, to one where those frustrations are a thing of the past? What can they do to change the rules of the game from one where they “swing the ball back and forth with powerful men and the women who support them,” as Xotchil Gonzalez puts it, to one where they work together across dividing lines and be the best in everyone?

Here are 3 things women can do that they can control right away:

Be the adult

I once read somewhere that behavior is always a reflection of age or stage of development. And Dr. Robert Kegan, who studies human development in adults at Harvard University, has found that most people are stuck in an earlier stage of development characterized by hubris and pride. The behavior of male colleagues that frustrates women is generally a reflection of that stunted adult development.

With this understanding, it’s easier to be the adult, and perhaps even easier if you happen to be a parent. When you see your coworker as a child acting outside the lines, seeking attention, or interrupting you in the middle of a conversation, you instinctively know how to keep a cool head, discern what the situation calls for, and respond assertively when you need to do this. You can’t do anything other than what you’re already doing. But you do that from a position of power.

Fuel for your energy

This is one of the areas that women often ignore, as taking care of their own needs is generally low on their list of priorities. But here’s the reality that underlies all achievement: it starts with you. A mother cannot effectively raise her young if she does not take care of her needs. An adult passenger cannot care for a child unless they have their own oxygen mask on first. And women in the workplace can’t handle the incessant challenges of the workplace unless they optimize their energy.

This means not only taking care of your physical needs, but also listening to your emotional, mental and spiritual needs. How do you stay positive? What will you do to distance yourself from negative emotions while listening to them? How are you going to set boundaries so that you don’t run out? And how do you meet your human need for creativity and self-expression?

do it together

We live and work in what has been described as a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous. Gone are the days when one person had all the answers and others were just there to carry them out. The world we partly inherited and partly created does not require Superwoman, but that we all work together across dividing lines, where we go up as we soar.

This is what alliance is about. It’s about being a champion to others, helping them see their own brilliance (especially important for women because of a despicable inner critic), and opening doors for them to help them do their best work. So find a woman (or more than one) to be an ally with, and be sure to include at least one minority group. This may require you to work through your own prejudices and beliefs, because we all have them.

And also find yourself an ally, and ideally a man, because we are all in this together. Conscious and conscientious men know that when women stand up, so does everyone else. Let them know what your ambitions are, be open to their feedback and involve them in your growth.

In this way, women lift and rise together to a new playing field that works for everyone.

Homaira Kabiri is a female leadership coach and the founder of the Goodbye Perfect Project. Her new book Goodbye Perfect will be released in March 2023. You can take her trust quiz here.

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